tv NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt NBC August 14, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm EDT
>> announcer: reporting tonight from havana. good evening. we're coming to you this evening from the charming and historic havana vieja plaza desan francisco deassis here in havana just across from the harbor. cuba is a country physically less than 100 miles from american soil but it feels a lot closer socially and politically tonight. and that provoked some tearful and joyous reaction from many cubans. for the first time in 54 years the american flag was hoisted above the united states embassy here. the ceremonial reopening of the embassy led by secretary of state john kerry marks the re-establishment of diplomatic relationships between the two countries while ending years of hostility. there was no question the day was historic. the debate continues at home, however, over whether it sets the right tone.
leading our coverage is andrea mitchell. >> reporter: on a day when symbols matter the stars and stripes raised over the u.s. embassy in havana ending a feud that began more than a half century ago. >> this is truly a memorable occasion. a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities. >> reporter: the last time an american secretary of state came to cuba franklin roosevelt was president. john kerry rewrote that history. not present, fidel castro, seen yesterday on his 89th birthday with leftist allies from bolivia and venezuela. today kerry also tried to meet average cubans. even checking out the old cars in the historic section of havana. but it would take more than a flag waving and a visit to heal these political wounds. kerry is being criticized today for not inviting cuban political dissidents to the embassy ceremony. instead he met them privately at the u.s. diplomatic residence. why not have them come there and you know, participate in the flag raising? >> well, they're going
to participate, andrea. i don't buy the notion that there's a distinction. that was a government to government event. but we're meeting with them. i'm here for whatever number of hours and during that time we have invited a large group to come and partake and meet. and plus i'm meeting with a whole cross-section of civil society from cuba. so i just don't accept that. >> reporter: despite unresolved issues the younger generations in havana have new hope today. alicia echevarria is an actress and recent university graduate. >> it's very good to be part of this process. everything is changing and you're part of that. it's great. >> reporter: isaac delgado, a musician and aspiring record producer hopes to experiment with blends of cuban and u.s. music. >> for me this is special, when you mix the culture of united states and the culture of cuba, it would have a very special result.
>> reporter: today there was tough talk by both sides. each acougs the other of human rights abuses. and when i asked john kerry what american tourists will be able to come here, when they can come here without restrictions, he said first we need to make progress on the easier things, lifting the embargo of course. that requires an act of congress. not anytime soon, lester. >> all right, andrea mitchell tonight. and by the way, later in the broadcast i speak with those marines who were part of that flag raising today. the decades of bad blood between the u.s. and cuba not only divided our countries but families caught in the middle. now relatives who are split between our nations watch the flag raising today. they are filled with new hope of reunion. we get that story from nbc's gabe gutierrez. >> reporter: it was a sight many cubans thought they would never see. a moment that shook the world of abel
fernandez guarea. >> i really don't know how to express it. but i felt something good. i felt something was happening. >> reporter: inmania he watched today's ceremony live with his wife. miles away in miami so did his father, ramon. >> now i have hope. >> reporter: hope, he says, to see and hug his son. ramon left cuba 20 years ago. still remembers the day he said good-bye to his only son, then 16. he asked me, "dad, will you come back? i said yes. but i didn't." instead he missed many moments, including his son's wedding. "it hurts very much," he says, "but such is life." >> we need to share lots of things we have missed along these years. >> reporter: for years abel has wanted to join his father, but his visa to the u.s. was never approved. he and his wife hope
after today things will be easy. >> it's going to be easier. and not only for us but for our families and our relatives and friends and everyone. >> reporter: for now they settle for phone calls. >> okay. i love you more. >> reporter: but today they were able to share something more. ♪ >> a great moment because the war is over. >> today i feel clos closer. >> reporter: that's just one of many families wondering what these changes will mean for them. lester, you've been speaking with people here on the streets of havana. no one anticipates that more than 50 years of hostility will evaporate overnight. but as secretary kerry said today, it's a start. >> there is a lot of hoping and expectation. thanks very much. appreciate it. the american flag also flies temporarily tonight outside cuba's foreign ministry as an apparent gesture in recognition of this
historic day. and that's where i spock to foreign minister bruno rodriguez. among the topics, opposition to the new u.s.-cuban relationship. >> as you know, there are influential american politicians who argue that this was a gift, what we saw today was a gift to cuba without receiving anything in return in terms of human rights reform. what's your answer to that? >> well, it's -- as secretary kerry pointed out that it's not a -- because firstly it's a bilateral relationship and we have to feel it from both sides on the basis of good faith because of the national interest, the interest of american and cuban citizens. it's not a gift. >> the foreign minister also impressed on me cuba's desire to end the u.s. economic embargo which he says has damaged his country. there's another big story we're following
tonight. it's increasing concern among some of the democratic party over hillary clinton's recent struggles. that has led to some speculation about a possible run by vice president biden. and now there's word some are trying to push a new challenger in her direction, former vice president al gore. chuck todd is in iowa talking to democrats. >> if someone told me six months ago that i wouldn't be supporting hillary now, i wouldn't believe them. >> reporter: at the iowa state fair today, growing concerns about the clinton campaign among democrats that i talked to. >> what concerns you about hillary clinton? >> there's always something. >> reporter: today that something is another story about classified information on the private server she used for official state department e-mail. democrats are concerned about the drip, drip, drip. >> i think that when those issues come up you just face it head on and say this is where we made mistakes -- >> you feel like she owes you a better explanation. >> absolutely. we're smarter than
that. >> reporter: then there's the rise of bernie sanders. this week a poll showing him ahead of clinton in new hampshire. all making democrats nervous enough to suggest joe biden or al gore should get in. >> well, gore, i was excited to hear that. i'm sorry that hear that that's maybe just a rumor. >> reporter: as for biden he's seriously thinking about a run but telling allies he's less than 50-50. hoping to shore up support, clinton's campaign rolled out an endorsement by influential former iowa senator tom harkin. a not so subtle signal to gore and biden that it may be too late. >> we don't need any alternatives right now. we have i think the -- one of the best candidates we've ever had in hillary clinton. >> republicans are here today too. jeb bush working the grill. test an outsider message. >> i haven't been in washington, d.c. i wouldn't know how to drive. i could barely get from dulles to senator grassley's office. >> reporter: and telling nbc's kelly o'donnell he refuses to exploit voter anger. >> if it's about appealing to people's angst i don't think
i'm going to win. if it's about saying we can rise up again, we can fix these things, i believe i'm going to be a pretty formidable candidate. >> reporter: well, i'm here, by the way, in clearlake, with iowa. i've got a rowdy group of democrats behind me. martin o'malley, bernie sanders all speak here tonight. i've got to tell you, lester, spend a little time in iowa and you realize hillary clinton is a very fragile front-runner. speak of fragile front-runners i've got donald trump one on one this weekend in person right before he makes his way to the state fair. >> one not to miss. chuck, we'll see you on sunday for "meet the press." in china we are getting a clearer picture tonight of the incredible scope of devastation from that wave of explosions in a major port city near beijing. and as a massive search and rescue operation continues for the missing, a piece of hope today. a sign of life in the smoldering wreckage. nbc's ian williams is there. >> reporter: amid the
smoldering debris it's hard to imagine anyone survived. but today rescue workers found 19-year-old firefighter joe ti, badly injured but alive. he was rushed to the hospital. he's expected to recover. others were not so lucky. at least 21 firefighters were killed in the blast. more than a third of all fatalities. and a dozen still missing. people today posted flyers, trying to find missing loved ones. the blast was captured on video by american dan vindaren. he thought he was going to die. >> it was just monumental. i thought it was a small nuclear bomb. i thought it was a nuclear bomb going off in my face. that's what it looked like. >> reporter: and this surfaced today. a dash cam video showing the blast and its powerful shock waves. it 4hit a warehouse complex owned by a company called ruihi logistics. drone footage shows apartment buggs heavily damaged.
there is speculation the explosion may have been inadvertently caused by firefighters spraying water on volatile chemicals. it's not yet known exactly which chemicals were stored at the site. a team of biochemical specialists arrived here in tianjin. today, though, local officials admit they don't know precisely what toxic brew they're dealing with. authorities say residents have nothing to fear but officials took no chances. apartments a mile from the fire are being evacuated. when we tried to film it, we were stopped and asked to leave. the fear and uncertainty here is growing. ian williams, nbc news, tianjin. let's tell you about now a frightening new turn in the fight against isis. word the militants are suspected of unleashing chemical weapons in recent attacks. further testing is being done but officials believe this is a dangerous new escalation. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel has late details. >> reporter: u.s. officials tell nbc news they now believe isis used mustard gas,
a banned chemical weapon, twice in recent weeks. in both iraq and syria. the most recent attack was three days ago in northern iraq against u.s.-allied kurdish forces. a top kurdish official tells nbc news projectiles containing a chemical agent were fired from isis-controlled territory. no kurdish fighters were killed, but several suffered difficulty breathing, vomiting, and patchy burns. secretary of state kerry in cuba today had this to say about isis. >> they've crossed many red lines already. and they're one of the most ruthless and dangerous terror groups that any of us have ever imagined. >> reporter: 27 years ago saddam hussein murdered 5,000 kurds with mustard gas and other chemical weapons. this time they're allegedly victims of terrorists. u.s. officials say this is not a red line moment and it's unlikely to
significantly change u.s. policy. the u.s. is already bombing isis. but the use of chemical weapons does change the dynamics on the battlefields. the kurds don't have gas masks. they may need them as isis is apparently willing to use any weapon it can. lester? >> nbc's richard engel tonight. thanks. up next we'll tell you more about a monster change in the forecast. the so-called godzilla el nino heading to the u.s. we're going to show you how that ripple effect will be felt from east to west including a surprise in store this winter. also awn precedented warning from the palace to the paparazzi tonight over the safety of prin i accept that i'm not 21. i accept i'm not the sprinter i was back in college. i even accept that i live with a higher risk of stroke due to afib, a type of irregular heartbeat, not caused by a heart valve problem. but i won't accept giving it less than my best. so if i can go for something better than warfarin, ...i will. eliquis.
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tonight the western u.s. is caught between extremes. monsoons bringing torrential rain and flooding while much of the region is also baking in triple-digit temps. with a so-called godzilla el nino brewing in the pacific months of historic weather chaos could be ahead affecting the rest of the country too. nbc national correspondent miguel almaguer has our report. >> reporter: it rolled in with fury. this las vegas monsoon wreaking havoc. lightning sparking fires, torrential rain triggering flooding. a fast-moving summer storm that could be a preview of what's to come this winter. >> el nino's definite l. ly a double-bladed sword.
it will provide drought relief but also a major amount of damage. >> reporter: nasa climateologist bill paxton says a monster el nino is moving our direction. scientists can see it in the water. the rising temperatures associated with el nino in the pacific may seem small. roughly three degrees. but for forecasters it's enough to predict big changes in our weather all across the country. el nino could mean the warmest year ever on record. heat waves right now already baking much of the country. where there's extreme fire and drought now we could see epic floods and muslides. el nino can also mean more hurricanes in the pacific and fewer of them in the atlantic 37 the southern u.s. could be looking at a washout while much of the northern swath of the country could be northern and dryer. >> we're kayaking down the street in los angeles and they're playing golf in february in minneapolis. >> reporter: el nino promising weather whiplash during a year
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secretary of state kerry walked through this plaza a bit earlier today. he met shopkeepers and people on the street getting a flavor of cuban culture. before we leave you tonight we want to get back to that story of the three u.s. marines who lowered the flag at the embassy in 1961. they were back today to do the honors raising that flag as the embassy reopened. great guys. and i had the honor to spend some time with them. they are forever marines, who returned to havana to answer the call of duty one more time. when you started hearing that relations between the u.s. and cuba were being repaired, did you begin to dream that this might be possible? >> i've been dreaming for 20 years. >> 54 years ago you gentlemen promised to return to havana and hoist the flag over
the united states embassy you that lowered on that january day long ago. promise made, promise kept. >> reporter: and as there was the day they lowered it in 1961, there was a crowd today to witness history. to see it go up, to hear the "star-spangled banner," what were you thinking? >> it was beautiful going up today. i've never seen a better flag. >> we three brought it down. and we flee got to put it back up. >> reporter: the last time they were in havana they became a part of history. they were guards at the american embassy when the u.s. broke off diplomatic relations with cuba and the three men were given a difficult job. >> how did this come about? were you ordered to do this? did you volunteer? >> i guess us guys volunteered. >> we were it. >> reporter: leaving cuba was emotional. >> were you sad to leave? >> oh, yeah.
we got on the car ferry and we were heading out the harbor and trying to listen to the news or the radio. and they were all blocked except one station. and they played "exodus," the cuban station. so we whipped out our 4th of july sparklers and waved back. >> reporter: coming back was equally moving. >> what was it like being a part of the other side of this history? >> there's only three americans that's done it on both ends. and here we are. >> to me it was an honor to be there on this side putting the flag back up. >> reporter: today these marines are part of history once again. helping two nations open a new chapter. a promise kept on a historic day here in cuba. that is going to do it for us on this friday night. for all of us at nbc news, including our entire team in havana, thank you for watching. good night and have a good weekend.
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